Often a vivid blur as they meander through heavy traffic on main roads and narrow alleys, rickshaws have served as popular canvases for artistic expression and advertising – for decades. Perceived as a cultural phenomenon in its own right, rickshaw art renders each vehicle unique in its display of political, religious, social and personal artwork. It becomes poetry and prose directed at a broad audience.
Amin Gulgee’s project ‘Q Rickshaw’ had much to offer and digest, with the outdoors serving as an ideal playground for performance art, and the “Quantum Rickshaw” as the canvas to create within its confines. In this regard it touches on the site-specific aspect of performance art. So, this Quantum Rickshaw becomes a site constantly in a state of flux; an animated surrounding producing unsettling and shifting interaction between space and time.
We have come to know Amin Gulgee as something of a wizard with new concepts in performance art, and his recent ‘Q Rickshaw Project’ (Quantum Rickshaw Project), with Adam Fahy-Majeed as co-curator, served as a vehicle to explore these tense time-space interactions. This was done through the efforts of nine artists – each with their unique concerns and approaches to performance art.
The Q Rickshaw set off on its performance-oriented journey on the 30th of January 2022 from the historical 19th-century landmark, the Empress Market. It is considered to be one of the oldest colonial landmarks that was built in 1889 in commemoration of Queen Victoria, then the Empress of India. The site of the market had historical significance, as it was situated on the grounds where a number of native sepoys were executed after the failed 1857 mutiny against British rule. Amin Gulgee and Adam Fahy-Majeed saw it as a fresh beginning after a horrid past. And Karachi-based artist Maha Minhaj saw it as the perfect opportunity to announce her sympathies, in the process weaving a space for affection and togetherness with her natives: Assuming the persona of a Sun Queen, clad in black and gold, she distributed hand-made origami boxes with a mirror in each, thereby initiating a silent conversation imbued with discrete consolation.
The next stop was Zainab Market, from where Faryal Yazdani initiated her dialogue that took the form of an act of anarchy with self on the line, repeatedly wrapping/unwrapping her limbs, a constant struggle to search for answers to age-old faulty notions pertaining to the socio-religious framework of the society that she belongs to. Her act is as unsettling as the many religious misinterpretations in our society, which initiate a ghastly chain reaction of obscurantism and violence.
Following Yazdani’s seven-minute act, yours truly was next to hop on the Q Rickshaw. Now, flamingos are ubiquitous symbols of fun and flamboyancy. From Alice in Wonderland to ancient cave paintings, they have always shared a special bond with artists and storytellers. A migratory bird, rare in its beauty, often spotted on the coasts of Sindh and Balochistan for a brief period, it speaks of a coming journey to distant lands, seen in dreams by those who have braced themselves for major changes in life. And so, in this particular context, it can be viewed as a life-changer; time for an individual’s dream to come true.
Amin Gulgee’s project ‘Q Rickshaw’ had much to offer and digest, with the outdoors serving as an ideal playground for performance art, and the “Quantum Rickshaw” as the canvas to create within its confines
Here I was then: a fairly resplendent flamingo – if I may be permitted to say so myself! – sticking his elongated neck out of the rickshaw as he commenced his journey from Burns Road towards the Art Council! On the way, this flamingo stared at passers-by, making his presence felt, emphasising notions of love, unity, cohesion and progress. There were moments when he stood on one leg, emulating the signature pose of the flamingo. The symbolism of the flamingo was meant to be that of a silent messenger who relies on gestures to trigger feelings of self confidence and contentment in the minds of the viewers. One hopes that I was able to succeed in at least part of this!
In any case, artist sister duo Sara and Lujane Pagganwala’s performance titled “POXS” commenced from the Arts Council. As simple an act as letting go of a cluster of colorful balloons drew a wild outburst of applause that travelled across space and time, making itself heard in the air enveloping the City of Lights.
Zoya Currimbhoy’s performance stemmed from a basic semiotic concept; Saussure’s distinction between the two inseparable components of a sign: the “signifier,” which in language is a set of speech sounds or marks on a page, and the “signified,” which is the concept or idea behind the sign. Her piece was a muted conversation between two lions constantly trying to get their messages through, with the artist assuming the role of a mediator, a visual translator. The work addresses notions of miscommunication arising out of misinterpretation.
The next stop was the Merewether Tower, Malik Zayed Awan’s allocated point of departure, where he set off as an alien hybrid, a portmanteau of cybernetic and organism, a fusion of the organic and the bio-mechatronic. In an alternate reality, he yearns for teleportation, a mental exploration into unknown territory bearing no resemblance with current time and space the artist locates himself in. As Nietzche puts it “The future influences the present just as much as the past.”
Farwa Hassan took charge of the Quantum ride from Napier Road, dressed in a black outfit overlaid with numerous tiny golden bells, the sort that herders make use of to keep track of cattle via the sound of the bell, when the animal is grazing out of view in vast plains. Her performance “Ghanti-Ghar” was about claiming territory with intent as pure as a creature grazing the fields. Through her performance, she embraced the present with a touch of sobriety.
Farwa made way for Maham Chiragh on M.A Jinnah Road, who attempted to reclaim her identity and her relationship with the city of Karachi through “mark- and map-making.” She made use of a long-stemmed paint brush that left traces of temporary ink on the road throughout her journey. Interestingly, this performance piece hits hard and trespasses into the realm of resistance if one understands the personal context of the work. In this case, the important point is the very identity of the artist, who belongs to a fiercely persecuted minority group, which is singled out even by the country’s constitution. Maham’s ephemeral traces left along the city, unfortunately, might one day come to represent her community, for she fears: “They’ll fade into nothingness.”
The closing act of this Quantum Saga was pure genius from a curatorial lens, as the Quantum Rickshaw came to a halt and the “Q- Rickshaw Project” concluded. Mother-daughter duo Manizhe and Zohray dressed up in vibrant colors enjoyed a picnic on wheels from Capri Cinema to the Quaid’s Mausoleum, where they got off and took a walk towards the tomb of the Founding Father. Their gesture resonated with the Quaid’s iconic 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, stating:
“You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of State.”